Bike & Hike / Historic / Northeast Florida

Azaleas bloom at Ravine Gardens; celebrated in festival March 3-4, 2018

Azalea queen in 1949

Neva Jane Langley vied to be Azalea Queen in 1949; she was Miss America in 1953.

Ravine Gardens State Park in Palatka has close to 100,000 flowering trees and shrubs, ready to be admired now and during Azalea Days, March 3 and 4, 2018.

This festival goes back a long time; this is its 72nd year.

Ravine Gardens State Park view from above

Looking down at the formal gardens

Historic image of Ravine Gardens State Park, Palatka, Florida

Historic postcard image

Historic water wheel at Ravine Gardens State Park, Palatka, Florida

Historic postcard

Azalea gardens at Ravine Gardens State Park, Palatka, Florida

Historic postcard

The park’s festival includes ranger-led narrated wagon rides through the park, music and food and emphasizes the park’s history.

Ravine Gardens State Park in Palatka traces its story to the Depression-era jobs program, the Civil Works Administration. In fact, in 1937, it was named the nation’s outstanding CWA project.  (It’s one of nine Florida parks built by the Civilian Conservation Corps and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999.)

During the less commercial pre-Disney era, Ravine Gardens was one of the 10 most visited tourist attractions in the state.

The army of unemployed workers  started with a deep, raw ravine formed by a spring-fed tributary to the nearby St. Johns River. They planted nearly 100,000 flowering plants — azaleas, dogwoods, redbud and camellias — creating a formal garden around the splashing stream. The gardens are set amidst a forest of native mosses, ferns and live oaks.

There’s a paved 1.8-mile road through the 146-acre park, with many picnic sites and a playground along the way.

Perhaps the best time to explore the Ravine Loop is one hour before sunset, when the road is closed to cars but remains open for pedestrians, bicycles, and wheelchairs.

Hikers can clamber along two miles of trails that follow the steep ravine. Two suspension bridges are a fun addition to the trail, particularly for kids.

If you go, take note of the administration building and the log concession building. Constructed of cypress logs and knees in 1935, they are considered regionally significant as examples of American Rustic Architecture.

Admission is $5 per carload up to eight people. Hours are 8 a.m. to sunset daily. Admission is $2 for pedestrians and bicyclists.

The festival hours will be 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, March 3, and Sunday, March 4.

In the town of Palatka, the Azalea Parade is 10 a.m. Saturday.

Ravine suspension bridge

Suspension bridge over the ravine

Website for Ravine Gardens State Park

More about Florida Azalea Festival

Things to do near Palatka:

There are a number of kayak and canoe trails in the St. Johns River and tributaries around Palatka.  The Putnam County Blueways has information on six trails, from 60 miles on the St. Johns to the popular, scenic 9-mile-long Ocklawaha trail.

The Atlantic beach is near and in this area it has an Old Florida feel. Flagler Beach is a perfect barefoot beach town.

Also nearby is Dunns Creek State Park, with four miles of multi-use trails (hiking, biking on fat-tire bikes and equestrian) including to the pristine waters of Blue Pond, a sinkhole lake.

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4 Comments

  1. The garden is so beautiful. These gardens are vital to town residents. They offer a place of peace and tranquility. I will continue to support the gardens as well as attend the festival tomorrow.

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  3. Years ago I was in the garden on a regular day in summer time. Even then it was a joy and I look forward to this years Azalea Festival.

  4. I LOVE the historic postcards. SO COOL.

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